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Around the table

Those whom the Lord wishes to punish for their waywardness he sends to meetings. These are the types you can expect to find there.

The Circumlocutor: Listen to him take eight minutes to paraphrase the four-paragraph text in front of you, and then realize that you are not quite sure what his point was. You are not permitted to scream.

The Quidnunc: Never mind the ostensible purpose of the meeting, He wants to chatter about what the big boys at corporate are up to, or who is in line to get the vacant office, or who is angling for a job with the competition.

The Realityist: Like the Quidnunc, he has no interest in the actual meeting. His function is to take up several minutes of everyone’s time with inane chatter about what he saw on television the night before, or some sporting event. His centripetal force tends to drag others along with him.

The Maverick: No matter what the group says, he has a different take on it. He not only thinks outside the box, he is never inside the box.

The Clotpoll: Apparently receiving signals from outside our solar system, he never quite gathers what is going on. His identifying mark: The answer to his question is the sentence immediately preceding his question. He is the reason everything has to be explained three times.

The Idea Assassin: No matter what anyone proposes, he will immediately spot and proclaim the flaw in it. We’ve tried it before, and it has never worked. They tried it elsewhere, and it didn’t work. It flat out can’t work. (And you’re a bit of an ass for having suggested it.)

The Auld Reekie: He only eats dishes prepared with garlic, he has gone European about deodorant, or he has some kind of kink in his digestive system. Better sit across the table from him.

The Literalist: He reads aloud every word on his PowerPoint slides.

The Anarch: He arrives late with a sheaf of papers, which he has trouble organizing. The items he wants to talk about are not on the agenda, and the items on the agenda he distributed are from a previous meeting. Questioned, he goes blank.

The Grand Inquisitor: He’s The Boss, and his behavior can, and will, combine elements of all the previous types.

NOTE: These people are the reason that nothing of importance is ever accomplished at meetings, which is why you have to go off by yourself, talk individually to people, and figure out on your own what has to be done.


*Please do not write objecting to the masculine pronouns. In three decades of attending news meetings, I have always been sitting at a table of white guys, who supply these types. I have not encountered enough female or minority participants in news meetings to be confident that I have a representative sample.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:36 AM | | Comments (28)


The Quidnunc is the only one who actually gets something out of the meeting. Accomplish actual work on your own time, meetings are for getting in the loop and finding out the scoop. Mission accomplished if you can come out of one without acquiring a detestable task, and bonus points if you can dump work on someone else.

In nearly 30 years in journalism, I never met a meeting that got anything done. The old dictum that 20 percent do all the work, and 80 percent do all the talking, still holds true. I used to especially despise meetings where, at the end of the meeting, we planned to have another meeting.

All too true. However, the Clotpoll may be hard of hearing and not (yet) aware of it. My father, who was aware of it, still often asked questions in the family that had just been answered. He hadn't consciously heard the answer, but he was subconsciously aware of the topic, which triggered the question.

The force you are looking for is centripetal, not centrifugal; centrifugal force is actually a "fictitious" force, and in any case would send an object away from the center of rotation.

Correction gratefully accepted.

Not sure which of your categories this one fits into, but there's also the guy who comes to the meeting and spends virtually all of it staring into his laptop and poking at the keyboard. I've actually been at meetings where this type described most of the attendees.

He is the social media speciousist, creating a dashboard of digital communication modules for enhanced untelligibility.

I suspect that a sample of females would show the same types - unpleasantness and inefficiency are not exclusively male or female. Clotpoll -lovely word.

True, P the T. The most complete clotpoll I ever met is a woman. Several times a meeting, every single meeting, year after year. Clots the whole meeting right up until someone can provide a verbal anticoagulant.

And of course there's the "Pre-Copernican," for whom the fact that she has been absent from the previous three meetings on the topic is no reason we shouldn't all spend our time reviewing the information she missed.

The centrifugal/centripetal quibble reminded me of this:

It took me some time to appreciate the Vominator who came to our after-lunch meetings. He always “drank lunch,” promptly fell asleep during the meeting, and then awoke to vomit on the conference room table. I thought what he had done was completely disgusting until I noticed that the meeting promptly ended when he changed the conference room into a functioning vomitorium. We encouraged him in his ministrations after we saw the initial salutary effects.

I can add a few types:

Party Liner: this individual, who may be in management, offers little originality but repeats the company position (gathered from other meetings) ad nauseam. Questioned, he merely restates the same thing in a slightly different word order: you understand now, don't you?

The Cheerleader: a person who sucks up to any management representative present by lauding recent company actions, or whitewashing the problems under discussion. A great addition to the contributions of the Party Liner.

[Slaps forehead] How could I have omitted the Sycophant. This species is immediately identifiable by its characteristic call: "Great idea, Boss!"

OK- at the risk of getting my own label here... it is actually possible for meetings to be productive and even the place where work gets done. the bad news is that it requires us to not tolerate the behavior described- including our own.

Meeting get this way because we become sheep and tolerate them like this. And because we come of age without attending meetings that are any better- we just do it that way ourselves.

In the (albeit rare) instances when teams and groups get so disgusted with this kind of meeting that they cannot tolerate it any longer- there is a moment in which, instead of permanently cancelling the meetings, some groups get the guts to manage the meetings and each other differently, In such cases, magic can happen.

Funny thing about magic- it takes work.

Additional character: Speaktolearn - the person who doubles the length of any meeting because of her need to repeat (nearly verbatim) everything that has been covered at the meeting that day.

The most painful meetings I've ever had the rue to sit through were run by The Sorority Matron. At once Clotpoll, Literalist, Party Liner, and Idea Assassin, her primary goal was to bring the cheery elements of "family atmosphere" to our 3+ hour weekly meetings. Pre-school techniques and vapidity were her tools of choice.

Each agenda had a box in the upper corner titled "Notes for Family Discussion" where we were all required to write our personal feelings on life and how the meeting was going, to be read and discussed aloud for team--excuse me--"family" bonding. "There is a reason why people want to shoot themselves at Christmas" disappeared under eraser more than once before Share Time.

After enough insufferable flashbacks to our childhoods, the solution turned out to be a sacrificial lamb with lactose intolerance, combining The Vominator and Auld Reekie. With experimentation, two glasses of milk ensured absolute meeting efficiency at 20 minutes.

Just a nit-pick for fun, but "go off by yourself, talk individually to people" is to have a ... meeting! A small one but nonetheless a meeting. I guess mainly you reduce the chances with 2 of you of those types being in the same meeting. :)

Wow, thanks for the footnote so I know to be offended. Amazing that your field is so insulated - kind of explains the state of the newspaper business I guess.

No need to thank me. I'd hazard a guess that you might have managed to be offended even without the footnote.

I once worked for a Fortune 1000 company that had about 600 people on the corporate campus. From time to time the CEO would just wander in conference rooms and join meetings unannounced. After gauging the productivity, he would ask thoughtful questions, encourage participants and ask "passengers" what their role was. It took no time at all until meeting effectiveness went through the roof. And only those needed would actually attend.

LOL!! So true! LOL!!

STOP IT! STOP IT! I retired from all this in 1991. Now you brought back all those painful memories and feelings!

You forgot about the Scope Creep: the person who's suggestions only serve increase the amount of work (as long as it's not their own).

Please, please, please update your list to include some of the suggestions in the comments!

How about the Daisypup? Part Wallflower, part helpless puppy. This person is often the most attractive person at the table and also the one with the dimmest light bulb in their head. He is so clueless that you're not sure if it's an act. His saving grace is that he is notoriously reluctant to speak up in the meeting. When called upon he will cheerfully respond, "Sounds like a plan!" or "Let's Rock'n Roll!" At first you are relieved because he will have no impact on the meeting at all, until you realize that HE is the one who will have to put the meeting's agenda into action.

Lol... I'm definitely a maverick :D

What about the Repeatoriginist... The person who repeats what others say as if he's having a profound, original thought.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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